A little while ago I wrote about how my kids, 5 and 7, have refused to not believe in Santa despite my husband’s and my repeated attempts to divest them of the fantasy.
My original intention in answering the question, “Mommy, is Santa really real?” honestly was simply not to lie to my kids. But when it became obvious that my kids needed to believe (they wrote a letter to Santa this year, not to ask for toys, but to apologize for people who don’t believe in him) I decided maybe that made the fat man some kind of real. Real enough for my kids, at least.
Fine, they believe. It’s kind of sweet, anyway.
My bigger problem then became how to address the gluttony that Santa seems to encourage in my kids. Maybe it’s because of all those glossy catalogs featuring a certain eerie-looking 18-inch doll posed precariously in historical tableaus, dressed in overpriced 18-inch clothing. Maybe it’s because of their ancestral baggage of receiving nothing more than an orange or a piece of writing chalk for Hanukkah (did I mention my little Santa defenders are half Jewish?).
Whatever the reason, they seem to believe that Santa brings unlimited gifts, has no budget, and would have no ethical duty to be more focused on, for instance, poverty-stricken children in the developing world than my two middle-class kids in suburban Seattle.
Translation: They think they’re getting about $4,652 worth of American Girl doll crap tomorrow morning.
Basically, they’re typical and eternally optimistic kids who have never wanted too badly for anything and for whom the oft-repeated words “toys don’t grow on trees” apparently don’t mean much.
Are we doing something wrong here?
This year, after it became obvious that their faith in Santa would live to see another holiday season, I focused on getting my kids to grow their awareness of others’ needs.
At their school, we each took a mitten from the giving wall, which corresponded to a needy child in Seattle. We got gifts the girls thought those children would like and made our donation so others who aren’t as fortunate could still receive gifts.
My kids didn’t think to ask why Santa wasn’t taking care of those needy kids. Or maybe they didn’t want to consider the likely answer to that. This kind of reminds me of how that long queue of kids snakes around every mall in America and none of them ever think to ask, “How can Santa be in all these places at once, and how does he have time to have us sit on his lap anyway when he should be up North fitting 50 billion gifts into a sleigh smaller than my mom’s Odyssey?”
I digress. We did the mittens. We packed up some food donations for the food bank, which we do regularly. We made and bought and prepared gifts for their school friends and crafted cards for their teachers. We threw a party for all our friends, which the girls helped clean and cook for, in order to give something back to our larger community.
I also sought advice from friends, who provided tips for encouraging gratefulness, such as asking the kids to choose just one item they truly want the most, and planning some quality family togetherness time instead of material gifts (which we did and will do more of in the next two weeks).
And they did seem to get it. They were so excited about our party that they cleaned their bedrooms down to the studs, twice. They have been helpful and giving and thankful during this season.
But they still think they’re going to get $4,652 worth of dolls from a man in a red suit flying with some deer.
And honestly, though it won’t be anywhere close to that crazy amount, they will be spoiled.
I was all set up to mete out a sparse Christmas — just a couple of small gifts, maybe an orange and some chalk — and then that awful thing happened, the thing with a crazy man and his guns and a Connecticut school full of innocent children.
And suddenly, just for right now, I didn’t care as much how grateful my children are.
I am grateful. For them. And I know love is not a toy. But to see the childish joy in my children’s eyes is something that, selfishly, I need right now. It’s what I need to believe in, the Santa-like antidote to the other.
So for one more year, they will believe a magical man landed on the roof and brought them enough toys to keep them hyper ‘til May. And I will believe that blind faith — be it their faith in a story, or my own faith in my ability to make them happy — has a place in our lives.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2013.